Learning a New Language

As I live here in the Middle Kingdom I have always been asked about my ability to speak Chinese.   I am one of those people who like words, and languages; so I put a lot of energy on learning as many languages as I can.    I currently speak Spanish, understand a little italian, and a little german, and now I am trying  to conquer Chinese.. one little character at a time.

When I started to study Chinese I thought my head was going to explode.  It really didn’t look like anything but pretty pictures to me and just sounded like they were making up sounds as they went along.   I didn’t think I was ever going to understand or even make sense of any of any of it.  When I was learning Spanish, it was so close to English that I could figure it out… but Chinese being a tonal language, I was lost.

My first attempt at learning Chinese was when I was in the states.   I listened to cd-roms, read books and played cool chinese computer learning games.   However, it didn’t seem to help me.   I then took a class at a community college and realized that those tools I used before actually did help me a little… because I found myself being on of the top students in the class.

I was then bitten by the language bug… and I asked my then professor to tutor me on a personal basis.  She agreed and that began my 6 months of personal chinese tutoring.   Even after all that , I still felt that I was not able to say more than just your basic “Ni Hao?” (How are you?) and “Wo Ai Ni” (I love you).

Little did I know that I had actually learned the basics and it was imbedded in my mind, even though I did not know it yet.

By the time I got to China, I felt I had wasted hours and money trying to learn this language because I did not understand anything.   I really could not go around town telling everyone that I loved them.   I was frustrated and angry about the whole situation.

Now after I have been in China, going on my third year, I have realized that I actually have learned something.    I can understand people!   The first time I realized this was when I went shopping and the little shop keeper asked me if I liked a shirt… I actually understood what she said.  So, much so that I thought she had asked me in English. But, when I answered her in English she looked confused.  When I answered in my Chinese and she actually understood me I know that all that hard work was actually paying off.

After that I started trying my hand at several other people, like the taxi driver, the waitress, the security guard and even my husband.  They were all understanding me… and in the office the Chinese teachers would talk among themselves in Chinese and I understood them.

Some how, some way… I had actually learned Chinese.  I couldn’t believe it.  Still can’t.   I am not fluent and I still can only read a very few characters.  But, I could actually hold a conversation and people will know what I am talking about.

I was feeling really proud of myself one day when I went shopping with one of the new foreign teachers.   I was bargaining and chatting like a pro in Chinese.   Then I happen up on a woman and her daughter.   They were talking to me about English classes, however, I was having trouble understanding them.  I had been working on my Chinese and I could not figure out why I could only understand bits and pieces.    Was my age catching up with me?  Was I losing my mind?  Why couldn’t I understand this woman.    I did the best I could with her and got her to come to the school.

Later when I saw her at the school, she was again talking to me and I was having trouble with her words.  Finally, after she left I asked one of the other Chinese teachers why did I have trouble understanding her?  He told me …. she was speaking local dialect.

I fell stupid… I did not realize that I had not been hearing the correct dialect.  So, that explains a lot.

Now, I have figured out that not only do I have to learn Chinese, I need to figure out the different dialects.  Awww Great….it never ends.

My advice for those of you trying to learn a language.  Study as much as  you can and pursue as many avenues as you can to learn.  However, the best way is to go to the country you are interested in and get down and dirty with the locals.

until next time…


10 thoughts on “Learning a New Language

  1. pearls

    This post is great Mrs. Jo! There’s something about the sound of other languages that’s very beautiful! Especially, when in pursuit of learning a favorite one. Presently, the Korean language is my passion!

    @Luis. I totally agree with Jules…I couldn’t tell that you started out with 0.0 English at all! You have wonderful comprehension and your points were well made.

    @Avastacia. You can conduct a search on Youtube.com which has many free Korean language tutorials available. Also, the internet is full of free language learning courses. Still, there’s nothing like conversing with someone with the native tongue that you’re in the process of learning! There are also websites online where people request pen-pals from a specific country, etc. to correspond with in order to hone or learn specific languages…it’s all just a click away!

  2. Jules

    Keep at it Jo, one day it will all just click without you even realizing.

    @ Luis I find it strange that you say your English is not good, but you wrote a perfectly understandable paragraph and use a big ole word like methodology…I’d say your English is superb. I wish my Spanish was at the level of your English.

  3. Ami

    That is beautiful Jo! I’ve been told that I will learn the language best, when I am living with it 24/7 and I have no choice but to lol. I miss my teacher back in Oklahoma. I was studying with her on Mondays for a little over 1 year, so I learned quite a bit and now that I’ve moved am resorting to Rosetta Stone, which is ok but not the same.

    It’s hard for hubby to speak Mandarin, because he’s so used to speaking English, but he tries. I was confused about local dialect as well and he told me the most important is if I know Mandarin, because that is the official language of the country and everyone is supposed to speak that along with their own local dialects.

    1. Your hubby is correct Ami… most people know both dialects… but it is the older chinese that do not know Mandarin… or English. I was shocked to find out that the older chinese do not know pinyin… only chinese characters. You will be fine once you get over here.. also in the big cities many people know English…

  4. Learning Chinese really is a challange but most of the time really interesting too. I’m in the point where I can manage in daily life situations and can have a relationship with my boyfriend who only speaks Chinese. But now my motivation to study seems to be hiding from me. I need to get it back because I want to be fluent after 4 years 🙂

    Thank you for this post. It’s always interesting to hear how other people learn Chinese and what they think about it.

    1. It is a challenge… and your right ….once you learn the basic stuff… that can get you around… you kind of lose the motivation and it doesnt help that my husband always wants to speak english to improve his skills. To make my husband speak more chinese to me.. since he speaks English all the time it makes me lose focus. So I always try to have a one day chinese speaking only a week. It motivates me to keep learning. You should consider visiting some villiages once in a while to give you motivation that you need to learn more. Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  5. Hi there, well, my story is very similar. I got to USA almost 2 yrs ago from Colombia, my wife got a job here and we had to move. My English was 0.0 I mean, I did not speak NOTHING. I tried to learn using podcasts, books, watching TV and also I bought Rossetta Stone, because many ppl said me that it is the Top…. That software was my last mistake. Then I took the decision of creating my own method, and I did it. First I got a book with the high frequecy words and I adapt them to me, and what I needed. I know that my english maybe is not as good as I would like, but every day is better. Using the same methodology I made a course for people that need to learn spanish (Beginners) and my clients love it.


    Good luck

    1. This is wonderful… it just shows that if you really want to learn something you can.. no matter what… I hope your method becauses more and more successful. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and thank you for reading my blog.

  6. Avastacia

    i am so happy for you! i’ve always wanted to learn korean, but i can’t find and korean classes ANYWHERE!! its my dream to move to south korea, but that just doesn’t seem possible ’cause i won’t move there is i can’t speak the language; god forbid i live the rest of my life needing a translator!

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